James Ojo Adakole
When Mr. James Eneche, woke up on February 6, 2019, he was upbeat as usual. Around 5:30 am, he hurtled out of bed, joined his family for devotion and went ahead to fetch his motorcycle, known in local parlance as Okada, carefully parked in a corner of his room afterwards. After ascertaining that his motorcycle, which he got through hire-purchase, was in a good state, he bid his wife and four boys farewell.
Unknown to him, it was not the day he anticipated. Barely few hours of working, he had a close shave with death, after a deadly head-on collision with another motorcycle, that left his head and two legs badly injured.
Rather than return home to the warmth of his children and wife as had always been the norm, he was writhing in pain, after he was whisked to a nearby hospital.
Few years ago, Eneche, from Benue State was doing relatively well, providing for his immediate family and catering for the well-being of those around. But then his fortunes began to change and he suffered a string of losses.
“It is not easy for me to carry the responsibilities of the family alone since my husband got his legs badly injured from the accident that almost took his life,” his wife, who sells pepper and tomatoes, told Sunday Sun.
“I pay the children’s school fees, pay my husband’s medical bills and other things with no support from anyone. I can’t explain how we’ve been surviving,” she added.
Okada is unarguably, one of the most-deadly means of transportation in Nigeria considering the many dangers associated with it. Yet, it is the easiest and the most sought after means of movement within cities because of its accessibility and reach. Notwithstanding the risks associated with it, okada has remained a major means of survival for many Nigerians. Eneche’s experience provides a graphic picture of just how much many families depend on okada to earn a living despite the attendant risks.
In a country grappling with acute unemployment and extreme poverty, motorcycle has offered many a lifeline. According to the National Motorcycle and Tricycle Riders Association, there are about eight million registered okada riders in Nigeria.
Considering the importance of the socioeconomic development of Nigeria, attempts by different state governments to restrict the movement of okada riders have always been greeted with fear. It was therefore not surprising that the recent announcement by Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, that new policies were being formulated to regulate the operations of commercial motorcyclists in the state, has been generating mixed reactions from the okada riders in the state.
“It has become imperative for us as a government to map out new policies that would guide how okada riders operate in Lagos State. This would further stem the tide of accidents and indiscriminate use of okadas on Lagos roads.
“When these are eventually put in place, we expect strict compliance from all concerned in our quest to achieving a greater Lagos for all, in line with our ‘THEMES’ policy trust,” the governor was quoted as saying while giving an account of his stewardship in the first 100 days in office.
Some motorcycle riders who spoke with Sunday Sun urged the state government to be considerate while formulating the proposed policies, given their plight. This was even as findings by our correspondent among the riders indicated that fears are mounting among them as the anticipated new policies could mean ban on their operations in strategic and juicy locations.
Reacting, Secretary, Ogba Park Okada Riders Mr. Hussein Niyi, told Sunday Sun that while the proposed regulations were not out of place, they must reflect the reality on ground and unrelenting spirit of many Nigerians who brace the odds to engage in the commercial motorcycle service.
He, unlike other Nigerians leaving the country in droves to countries where they are mostly subjected to harassment as evidenced in the ongoing xenophobic attacks in South Africa, people who chose to stay back in the country, to offer commercial motorcycle service, the risks involved notwithstanding, should be encouraged for their doggedness to survive at home against all odds.
“The proposed regulations by the government is a welcome development. However, we are praying it shouldn’t affect us negatively, because anything can happen. No one prays to have his source of income and survival disrupted. Therefore, we hope that the new regulations would be in the best interest of the okada riders in Lagos State. We’re doing this because we can’t run away from our country because of hardship. We are hearing of those recently brought home from South Africa over growing xenophobic attacks. Why did they go there in the first place, was it not for greener pastures, because there are no jobs in Nigeria?”
Niyi went on to dismiss the negative perception associated with Okada riders as perpetrators of all forms of criminality, noting that measures were already underway to ensure close monitoring of okada riders in Lagos.
“It is highly unfair to see all okada riders as agents of evil. Those who perpetrate evil know themselves pretty well. That is why now we are emphasizing the need for all our members to ensure they belong to the union and have means of identification. As okada riders, we know ourselves. If an outsider comes from nowhere and parks here, we would accost him immediately and challenge him to identify where he belongs so such people don’t tarnish the image of okada riders anyhow.”
Mr. Akinkuto John, an O’Ride commercila motorcyclist in Lagos stated that it was unfortunate okada service has become of the greatest employer of labour in Nigeria as a result of widespread hardship in the country.
He told Sunday Sun, “We’re into this because of the situation of things in the country. Commercial okada service is not a job any reasonable person will pray for but there is nothing anyone can do about it because of the way things are. If you go where people line up to collect these machines, you won’t help but weep bitterly about what has befallen our society, especially when you see graduates dominating the place.”
On the challenges facing them on daily basis, he said: “We have a major problem for now, which is the issue of agberos (park hoodlums). This initiative was primarily to help those who are jobless, to provide a faster option of transportation for people struggling to beat the traffic situation in Lagos. In spite of these advantages, our people seem to be frustrating the benefits inherent in the scheme. This is the only means through which we help ourselves. Our only appeal to the Nigerian government and here in Lagos is to strive to make life conducive for the common man on the street.”
According to him, the way O’Ride and other innovative on-demand motorbike services in Lagos made it easier for the poor to afford but such arrangement is being scuttled with threats from hoodlums in the state.
“As a registered company, we are not expected to pay for any ticket, but whenever we go through Mushin, Yaba and other parts of Lagos, it is always a terrible experience,” he said.
Corroborating John’s view, Mr. Soddiq, another O’Rider said: “So far, we are coping with the situation of things in Nigeria. What we are getting from the business is okay because half bread is better than none. The challenge we are having is that of hoodlums who attack us in groups. They treat O’Ride operators and others from similar companies as though we are doing something illegal whereas all we are trying to do is just to eke out a living. They see us as enemies, so anytime such issue comes up, we are always being careful with them, because applying force could worsen the situation. Sometimes, it’s just you against about a group of 10 persons.”
According to Moses, another motorcycle rider, banning okada in Lagos would affect him negatively. He said: “I don’t want government to ban motorcycle in Lagos State because that is my only hope of survival. I got this motorcycle on basis that I will pay back in instalments and remit N2000 daily.”
On his part, Adamu Ahmed, another okada rider, expressed optimism that contrary to fears, the present administration is unlikely ban commercial motorcyclists in Lagos.
His words: “From the beginning of this government, starting from the election period, the governor promised us then that he would work together with okada riders for a greater Lagos. And truly so far, the man has kept his words. Therefore, those fears are not genuine. I don’t think the governor will intentionally ban okada, except some people will mastermind that. Okada has become the last hope for many poor Nigerians. With small money, you can get an okada for use and from there you can feed your family, pay house rent, school fees and take care of other bills.
He, however, called on the present administration to address growing cases of indiscriminate arrest of okada riders by security officials in the state.
He said: “Some people with seemingly different interest have started hounding okada riders in Lagos State, especially the police. Most times, we get arrested indiscriminately and forced to pay N5,000. We don’t really know why they have been clamping down on us. Around Area F in Lagos yesterday (Wednesday), they arrested about 30 okada men and collected between 5,000 and 10,000 from each of them, after much begging. So, we don’t really understand the situation but we are appealing to the governor to help us too.”
Similarly, Mr. Innocent observed that with the growing population of people in Lagos State, the thought of government banning okada would continue to remain a speculation.
“Trying to ban normal Okada won’t work because of the population of people in Lagos State,” he said.